At the start of December 2011, Manchester City were five points clear of Manchester United. Not only did the Blues win the league on goal difference thanks to an iconic injury-time strike from Sergio Aguero, but they also had to come back from an eight point gap themselves to seal victory on the final day: a swing of 13 points at its highest arc.
In 2014, the start of December saw City trail Chelsea by six points only to find themselves level on New Year’s Day: level on points, goals scored, goal difference and even with identical win, loss and draw records. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea still went on to triumph in the end by eight points.
There are peaks and troughs and twists and turns, and no one should know that more than Manchester City. Whenever they’ve won the title they’ve spent all season in flux, between looking dead certs to lift the trophy and looking dead, whether it be 2012 or 2014. The phrase “we’ll fight ‘til the end” has become an anthem for Blues fans, and with good reason.
This season, with an 11 point gap, any City fan looking at the table dispassionately and with the realism that any other person would must surely concede that the title is City’s to lose. But given all that’s gone before, that’s just the problem: if any team can lose it….
On Wednesday night, Pep Guardiola’s City – by all accounts a different beast to what we’ve seen before – will travel to Swansea looking to continue their run of wins to 15, and take the record of most consecutive wins in Premier League history into new territory: the Arsenal of the Invincibles managed 14 over two seasons, but 15 would be unprecedented for everyone. And yet, Swansea’s Liberty is also a stadium where the Blues have seen title dreams seemingly come unstuck.
In 2012, Roberto Mancini’s City saw their two-point lead at the top of the table evaporate in south Wales in March as a Manchester United victory over West Brom lifted them into top spot, displacing City from the top of the league for the first time in five months, when United drew with Liverpool in October, just days before the first Manchester derby of the season saw City launch a goal difference lead over their rivals which would be crucial at the end of the campaign.
This year, it may not be quite so tight, and City may not need to worry quite as much. But after beating United at Old Trafford once again in a result which already feels more than just significant, Wednesday’s trip to the Liberty Stadium provides the sort of after-the-Lord-Mayor’s-show type of test that looks like something of a breeding ground for complacency.
Guarding against that will be City’s next big task, especially with a tough looking test against a resurgent Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend. Slumping in midweek would still leave the Blues with an eight point lead, and even then only if Manchester United can win their game at home to Bournemouth.
But City know all about twists and turns in the title race, and they know that they can all start with away trips to Swansea, too.